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Boating: Best Christmas boat parade in years?

December 13, 2011
by boatguy Ed , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

I want to apologize for over-promoting the Dec. 3rd Christmas Boat Parade. I fear that too many people abandoned their home and hearth to come to the Beach because of what I wrote in two columns. Okay, so stop sending me nasty e-mails.

Don't get me wrong; it was a wonderful event. There were more boats, officially 25, than anyone can remember, and there were many, many more attendees than anticipated.

"This was the best weather we've had in 10 years," said one restaurant general manager. "Last year we had 8 or 10 boats and the temperature was in the 50s. Very few people came out then but this year we had sweater weather and no wind!"

Thousands of people came to see the brightly decorated boats, and they weren't disappointed. Every type of vessel either joined in the parade, from pontoon boats to sailboats to kayaks, and they were decked out like Christmas trees. As each vessel left the dock at Salty Sam's marina, loud cheers went up from the overflow crowd lining the docks and waterside tables.

Floating observation platforms -including Salty Sam's Pirate Ship and the Fort Myers Princess (on a regularly scheduled sunset tour)- allowed many more to see the boats up close. So how could this have been a bad thing for the Beach?

"Overwhelming, this is crazy," said one waterside restaurant patron as he stood in line with an empty pitcher in hand. "I'm never coming back here, ever!"

"Did you ever go to a concert," I asked the middle-aged man. He nodded yes. "So?"

"Sure I stood in line at concerts but this parade will be over before I get this pitcher filled!" That was a typical over-statement that I heard throughout the night.

Everyone decided to go to the Beach for the parade. Traffic was backed up to the middle entrance to the Boardwalk Caper an hour before the parade and the smart ones turned around. It was like there was a Jimmy Buffet concert on the beach that night.

"This only goes to prove there is nothing to do in Fort Myers," said my son. You must forgive him because he's 28 and bored to death in his own hometown. "I think this is cool. A bunch of people brought together by the multicolored lights celebrating Christmas but tomorrow there still won't be anything to do!"

Since he and his girl don't drink, the lack of service didn't bother them much but they were in the minority. Several "Dead End Canal Yacht Club" members tag-teamed the bars at several establishments, ordering pitchers of beer and then sharing them. The food was another issue, but you had to have the Christmas spirit, right? Hour-long delays were typical in some places. Young people draw energy from large crowds, so the grumbling was left to their parents and grand parents and there was plenty of it going around.

It wasn't for the lack of trying. Every employee was doing there best. Owners were spotted busing tables and washing glasses. Four and five bartenders crowded behind a bar made for three but slinging drinks at near-light speed wasn't enough.

At one place they ran out of glasses and began serving wine in foam cups. It was almost too much for one professional bartender; I swear I saw a tear form in the corner of her eye when she was pouring Chardonnay into a foam cup.

Still, the majority of the crowd was awed and happy. I know because I was on the water part of the time and heard the cheers and the laughter and the gaiety. Then I was back onshore and was surrounded by happy people, too. Then, out of the mix, came an oath that included statements about the service or the food and it was a sour note.

No one stood on a chair and yelled, "It's your fault for all coming here all at once. This is a great place and you have to give it another try!" No one did but I felt like it.

Were there mistakes made? Absolutely and the e-mails I received had one underlying theme: NO CROWD CONTROL! Example, "We arrived around 4:30 p.m. and planned on eating before the parade but many people had the same idea so we waited quite a while for the food to arrive. Just as we began eating we were surrounded by late arrivals that bumped our chairs and crowded in between us and the railing!" A lot of lessons were learned that night like turning away the overflow crowd, etc. I hope they will be applied next year! Or maybe this Dec. 27, when the tourists are here. Talk about crowds!

I also apologize for the tardiness of this column but my deadline has been moved from Mondays to Fridays.

Boatguy Ed is retired and doesn't own a restaurant and has no interest in one except as a patron, okay! No, you still can't buy him a drink! Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukah! Feliz Navidad! Happy Kwanzaa!



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